Over 800,000 law enforcement officers across the United States are expected to participate in this year’s National Police Week, a time for mourning police officers killed in the line of duty and recognition of others who have been injured.
Last year, 118 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty nationwide. So far in 2023, 22 officers have lost their lives while serving.
The weeklong recognition of police officers dates back to 1962, when President John F. Kennedy designated May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day, and the week in which that date falls as Police Week.
Monday morning, surrounded by more than a dozen officers from local law enforcement agencies, Monongalia County Commissioner Sean P. Sikora officially recognized the day and the week in Mon County with a proclamation and wreath-laying ceremony held at the courthouse square on High Street.
“Our law enforcement officers are the guardians of life and property, defenders of the individual right to be free, warriors in the battle against crime,” the proclamation read.
“Every day we ask a great deal of the men and women of our nation’s law enforcement agencies to ensure public safety, serving as front-line workers and responding to incidents involving domestic violence, substance-abuse disorders, mental-health challenges and homelessness — often with limited resources.”
Sikora said his father was a long-time member of the Weirton Police Department, so he knows the dedication the job requires and the importance of recognizing and supporting those officers who sacrifice it all for public safety.
“People don’t go into public safety and law enforcement for the money, they go into it because it’s something they want to do,” Sikora said after the ceremony. “But to keep those people, retain those people, it’s been harder and harder, and I feel an important part of my job is to do everything we can to take care of those that are taking care of us.”
Of the 226 officers killed in the line of duty throughout West Virginia, two had served in Monongalia County.
In June 2000, Morgantown Police Officer PFC Frank Fidazzo died after suffering serious head injuries from a bicycle accident while training with his agency’s bicycle unit.
Fidazzo served with MPD for 11 years and was assigned to the bicycle unit as he and other bike officers from several agencies were finishing a one-week training series. They were riding on a path in a city park when Fidazzo’s bike hit a hump, throwing him over the handlebars. He was transported to the hospital, where he died the following day.
Sgt. Todd May of the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department was killed in February 2012 while involved in a vehicle pursuit that had crossed over the West Virginia-Pennsylvania state line.
After crossing into Pennsylvania, the driver got onto I-79 southbound back toward West Virginia. Approximately one mile north of the state line on I-79 south, the driver rammed May’s patrol car as he waited in the median for the pursuit to reach his location. May was transported to a hospital in Morgantown, where he died a short time later.
The driver of the vehicle was charged with homicide by vehicle in Pennsylvania. In December 2012, he was convicted of third-degree murder, homicide by vehicle, homicide by vehicle while DUI and multiple other counts.
May was a member of the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department for 10 years and had previously served with the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Department and the West Virginia Eastern Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority.
“I think it’s important that we recognize these officers every year — over 200 in West Virginia and many more all over the United States,” said Mon County Sheriff Perry Palmer. “We keep in mind what the police officers do day in and day out for the citizens of wherever they live. It’s a stark reminder of how dangerous the job is and how serious our guys — females and males — take their job.”
Palmer said events like this still hit close to home after losing May over a decade ago.
“I hope it’s something that continues, not only for the officers that have lost their lives, but the people and officers that go out every day to protect the citizens,” he said. “There’s not a day goes by we don’t remember Sgt May. He was an integral part of the department, came up through the ranks and it’s a stellar reminder that this could happen close to home.”
“It’s a sobering time every year,” MPD Chief Eric Powell said. “I’m just appreciative that we have this time to sort of reflect and honor those officers that have paid the ultimate price in performance of their duties and for their community. So, it’s very sobering, but at the same time it’s very appreciated that a certain block of time has been designated to recognize those officers.”
Before concluding the wreath ceremony, Sikora, on behalf of the Mon County Commission, called upon residents to reflect and remember Fidazzo and May and to “make every effort to express appreciation to these men and women who are willing to sacrifice their lives if necessary to guard us and our loved ones against all who would violate the law.”
“To members of law enforcement and their families we know that not a single day, not a single week is enough to recognize your service and sacrifice …,” Sikora read. “You have our unwavering support and total gratitude … “These men will forever be remembered for their ultimate sacrifice.”